Arrival at the International Airport in Managua. Transfer to Granada. Lodging in Granada.
Today we begin with a relaxing boat ride around Lake Nicaragua’s enchanting islands, 360 of which are products of the eruption of the Mombacho Volcano, the defining feature of the Granada skyline. Enjoy the beautiful landscape and the abundant bird and wildlife that surrounds the area. We’ll then make our way to Granada itself, considered one of the finest colonial cities in the Americas with its cobblestoned streets, stately churches and grand colonial homes. Walk around the main plaza and visit La Merced Church and its bell tower alongside, arguably the most beautiful church in the city. Visit the pastel blue San Francisco Museum and Convent, and don’t miss the ancient catacombs underneath! Due to the historical and cultural value of the city, it is in the process of being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Return to hotel. Rest of afternoon at leisure. Lodging in Granada. (B, L)
Today, we’ll head west toward León, stopping along the way at Masaya National Park, Nicaragua´s first and largest national park, which houses two volcanoes and five craters. The area’s ancient inhabitants lived in fear of the constant eruptions. Eventually the Spanish baptized the active volcano "Boca del Infierno" or "Mouth of Hell" and in the 16th century, in hopes of exorcising the demons, erected a cross on the crater’s lip (a replica is in place now). The eruptions had a dramatic impact on the grounds—rocks and volcanic ashes still cover the area closest—yet different types of vegetation appeared as well as wildlife such as coyotes, deer, iguanas and monkeys. Also thousands of parakeets make their nests in the crater’s walls, one of the country’s most visibly active volcanoes or not! It is impossible to resist climbing over the rim of Boca del Infierno to peer 2,000 feet down into its throat of continuously bubbling lava and emissions of smoke and sulfur gases. Then we’ll continue to elegant León, Nicaragua’s 2nd largest city after Managua, for a brief tour of its attractive historic center and colonial buildings. We’ll stop at the largest cathedral in Central America, Basílica de la Asunción, its design reputedly approved originally for construction in Lima, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overnight in León. (B, L)
In the morning we’ll leave León and board a bus for the 2-hour drive to the Port of Potosí and our boat. The Gulf of Fonseca is the most scenic and fastest route between Nicaragua and El Salvador. During the 2-hour boat ride, you’ll see a wide variety of coastal environments – volcanic gulf islands, mangrove forests over winding lagoons, isolated black sand beaches and rock cliffs – and of course local fishermen at work. All luggage will be packed away in waterproof bags (as a precaution); however, be prepared for rogue waves! Upon arrival, we will go through customs and proceed to the hotel. Lodging in La Unión. (B, L)
Today we start our trip to central El Salvador, stopping at El Icacal on the way, one of the best beaches in the country and happily retains a pristine, unspoiled environment. With plenty of sea vegetation and a considerable stretch of sand, El Icacal provides the ideal nesting spot for 4 species of endangered sea turtle, including the recently-arrived leatherback. A special conservation project takes place here where turtle eggs are kept in manmade nests as protection. We’ll visit the rural school, sponsored by a local nonprofit, where you can meet the children. Maybe initiate a game of soccer! In the afternoon, we’ll continue on to Suchitoto, an immaculate colonial town. Lodging in Suchitoto. (B, L)
Today we’ll enjoy Suchitoto, walking along the charming cobblestone streets fronting lovely old whitewashed colonial homes and buildings. The focal point of the city is tranquil Central Plaza with its stark white Santa Lucia Church, constructed in 1853, one of the best examples of post-colonial architecture in El Salvador. Suchitoto has long been the country’s cultural capital and is today the highland seat of national tourism. Later we’ll attend an Indigo Workshop. Indigo, a natural blue colorant extracted from the xiquilite plant, was critical to the Mayan culture for religious rituals, medicine, pottery, and painting. When the Spanish arrived in El Salvador in 1524, it became the new source of wealth in the region and by the 17th century, an ounce of indigo was equal in worth to an ounce of gold. El Salvador is recognized worldwide as one of the largest producers of top quality indigo. We will learn the process of indigo as well as art techniques used on cloth as we experiment in designing our own scarf or bag, a take-home souvenir of our workshop training! (B, L)
In the morning, we’ll leave Suchitoto and drive west toward the border of El Salvador and Guatemala to the city of Antigua Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the central highlands. Antigua is famous for its natural setting, colonial city charm, Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture and a number of ruins. Look for the popular landmark of the city, the marigold-colored Arco de Santa Catalina, the only piece remaining of the original Convent of St. Catalina, much of which was destroyed in a 1773 earthquake. The Arch originally connected the convent to a school, allowing the cloistered nuns to pass to and from unseen. The site offers an iconic photo of Antigua from the front of the arch with its clock atop and volcano in the background. Antigua is also one of the best recognized centers for Spanish language study in Central America. Free afternoon to relax after the drive. Lodging in Antigua Guatemala. (B, L)
This morning enjoy a walking tour along the cobblestoned streets of Antigua – a most beautiful colonial town of pastel houses and terracotta roofs, Guatemala’s former capital and the pride of the country. Surrounded by three volcanoes and mountains with coffee plantations, Antigua survived near destruction from the 1773 Santa Marta earthquake, volcanic eruptions, more quakes, floods and neglect. Yet some hardy colonial gems remain and several impressive ruins of churches and other fine civic structures have been preserved, as well as the vibrant spirit of this true Guatemalan town. Market days offer great bargaining ops for silver, pottery and Indian textiles. Parque Central is the heart of the city Because of its immense historical and cultural value, UNESCO named Antigua a World Heritage Site. Free afternoon. Lodging Antigua Guatemala. (B, L)
Transfer to Guatemala City airport to board your flight home. (B)